Balanced scoring helps Michigan bolster NCAA Tournament resume, drill Indiana
Ann Arbor — More than 150 former players, staff and managers were on hand Sunday at Crisler Center for Michigan’s Big Ten matinee against Indiana.
After the 89-65 victory, two Wolverines stood alone.
Seniors Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson became the program’s all-time winningest players, collecting their 105th career win as Michigan (16-9, 7-7 Big Ten) strengthened its NCAA Tournament resume against the Hoosiers, who are squarely on the bubble.
“That says a lot about their body of work,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard of the seniors, who were not made available for the media, “and what they’ve done as far as representing the Block M.”
Franz Wagner had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Brandon Johns Jr. added 14 points, though the win was not without a scare, as Isaiah Livers went to the locker room with a right lower-leg injury after a fall in the second half. He returned briefly and finished with 12 points.
Sunday was the fifth Michigan win in six games following a four-game losing streak in January. It was also the seventh straight win against IU, while coach Archie Miller’s team has won three straight against Michigan’s rivals from East Lansing.
Simpson and Teske came into Sunday tied for career wins with Jordan Morgan, who played from 2011-14, and the trio of Glen Rice, J.P. Oosterbann and Mark Hughes, who played from 1986 through the 1989 national championship. Michigan has lost 36 games with Teske and Simpson for a .745 winning percentage.
For comparison, their coach went 79-22 in three seasons with the Fab Five, a .782 percentage.
“With (Simpson), the energy he brings each and every day is incredible. I’ve never met anybody like him,” junior Eli Brooks said. “He’s just built different, wired different.
“With Jon, he’s a great leader. You might not see it verbally, but he just does it by example and we just follow it.”
Brooks had 13 points, and Simpson had 12 points and 11 assists for Michigan, turning the ball over once.
“He made some great decisions with that basketball and did a really good job of controlling the tempo of the game,” Howard said of Simpson. “He wasn’t trying to find the home run play. Finding guys who were open, reading what the defense gives him.”
Teske’s scoring struggled continued however, as his six points came on 2-for-5 shooting. He added seven rebounds.
Teske scored in double figures in 13 of the first 15 games of the season. Since then, he’s done it three times in the last 10 games. He is 8 for 34 (23.5 percent) in the last four games.
Meanwhile, reserve center Austin Davis had another strong game, scoring nine points. Davis came into the game making 15 of his last 16 field goal attempts and made four of his first five shots on Sunday, finishing 4 of 6.
Davis will graduate this spring with one year of eligibility remaining. Howard said he has a conversation a few weeks back with the redshirt junior about his role this season and beyond but did not offer details.
“He’s such a giver, a total team guy,” Howard said. “Austin is just a coach’s dream, really.”
Livers went down going for a loose ball rebound, but Indiana’s Justin Smith landed on his right lower leg. Livers limped off the court, was tended to there shortly by athletic trainer Alex Wong, then limped to the locker room under his own power.
Livers missed six games after suffering a groin injury on Dec. 21 against Presbyterian. He was injured again in his Jan. 25 return game against Illinois, missing the next three.
Livers returned Feb. 8 against Michigan State and hit the ground running with 31 points in his first two games back before Sunday.
Livers’ injury came during an 18-4 Michigan run that put Indiana away midway through the second half. He returned a little more than 5 minutes of game time later, playing 99 seconds, walking gingerly during stoppages and not recording a stat before his afternoon was done.
“We’ll see how it goes (Monday),” Howard said. “It’s going to be a day-to-day process.”
Howard said there was no long deliberation about sending Livers back in with his team up 74-53 with 7:54 remaining.
“I just looked over and I saw he came back after getting his ankle taped and all that re-adjusted,” Howard said. “Looked over at him, said, ‘You ready?’
“He said: ‘Let’s go, Coach.’”
Leading his team to a 37-21 advantage on the boards, Wagner grabbed a team-high eight rebounds while his older brother, Moritz Wagner of the Washington Wizards, sat near courtside while enjoying the NBA’s All-Star break.
“I think I hit a three, and I heard, ‘It’s about time you hit one,’” Franz Wagner said. “At first I didn’t know who said it, but I saw him and chirped something back.”
Moritz Wagner and free agent Derrick Walton Jr. addressed the team after the game, two remnants of the John Beilein era where gaining momentum this time of year was an annual tradition.
Reserve De’Ron Davis led Indiana (16-9, 7-7) with a career-high 18 points on 9-for-9 shooting.
Michigan held Trayce Jackson-Davis to five points, his second-lowest output of the season. The leading freshman scorer in the Big Ten had scored double figures in six of his last season games, averaging 14 points entering Sunday.
“Trayce has got to play hard," Miller said. "Today was one of those days where he didn't get a lot done offensively. When you look at his rebounding totals (two) and his aggressiveness to the foul line — two attempts — a lot of those things don't come off touches.
"We have to find a way to bring Trayce on the road here eventually."
Michigan shot 31 of 54 from the field (57.4 percent), including 9-for-17 shooting (52.9 percent) on 3-pointers.
The Wolverines hit the road for a pair of unranked foes this week, Wednesday at Rutgers (18-8, 9-6) and Saturday at Purdue (14-12, 7-8).
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.